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Lifting the Mask With Pyotr Kochetkov

#AHL | In less than a year, @pyotrkochetkov has made himself a household name for @Chicago_Wolves and @Canes fans. What makes him stand out in the hockey world? @FPHWolves chats with the young phenom about his game, his adjustments, and Shakira

Kochetkov takes a break in the action. Photo Courtesy: Ross Dettman

Lifting the Mask With Pyotr Kochetkov

ROSEMONT, Ill. – Dial the clock back to February of 2022. With the end of Nizhny Novgorod’s season in the KHL, a young goaltending prospect made the journey over the ocean to join the Chicago Wolves. The goaltender, a 2019 second-round pick and a native of Penza, Russia, came to a new continent with a new language and a new culture. While he earned rave reviews from prospect circles, there was still an aura of mystery surrounding this player of remarkable skill and enigmatic personality.

Before the end of his very first American Hockey League game, everyone knew the name Pyotr Kochetkov.

Everyone has seen what makes him an exceptional goaltender on the ice. His athletic, jaw-dropping stops have caught the hearts of the fans that cheer for him. His swagger has captured the heart of his teammates, energized by his feisty spirit in the crease that has seen him go toe-to-toe with NHL all-stars. His personality shines through his mask, and that has a young man from Penza the talk of the town in Chicago, Raleigh, and beyond.

Making an Impression

Author’s note: many quotes from this interview were taken with the help of a translator. They will appear as Kochetkov spoke to them. Special thanks to Hannah Arbitman!

Kochetkov made his debut on February 19, 2022 against the Iowa Wild. There may have been some early jitters in the young goalie’s game, as the Wild led 3-2 late into the second period when Kyle Rau made a move to the net, barreling over Kochetkov.

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The aftermath of the collision with Rau and Kochetkov. Photo Courtesy: Ross Dettman

No one would have blamed a young goaltender for getting rattled or leaving the game after a hit that left them on the ice bleeding from the lip. Not Kochetkov. He got up absolutely heated, barking at the Iowa bench that was giving it right back to him.

“I was trying to say something mean to them,” Kochetkov said. “…but then I couldn’t find the words to do it in English, so then I figured it out in Russian and it kind of went away.”

The young goalie’s swagger rejuvenated the team heading into the third, where they’d score three straight goals while Kochetkov slammed the door shut en route to a big win in his first game in North America.

The netminder hit the ground running in his first year and never looked back. Kochetkov went 13-1-2 in his first season in Chicago – absurd numbers even by the Wolves’ standards in a record-breaking season. While he was almost untouchable in the crease, off the ice Kochetkov had significant adjustments to make in a brand new world and a brand new culture.

“I didn’t know I liked Russian food so much until I came here. The hardest thing was the food.” Kochetkov said of the shift. “I wasn’t adjusted to American food. The difference in rink sizes also, in Russia they’re larger, so just the different style of play.”

Despite the adjustment to high-powered processed foods packed with sugar, Kochetkov continued to dominate on the ice until he got the call to Carolina. All Kochetkov did in the NHL was win his first three regular-season games and pick up another victory in the postseason for a Hurricanes squad finding themselves resorting to their fourth goaltender in the depth chart.

After just seven appearances in the NHL, Kochetkov was already a fan favorite. The Hurricanes were eliminated in seven games by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but the Wolves were still on their Calder Cup hunt.

Kochetkov would return to the Wolves and wouldn’t miss a beat.

Bringing the Heat

Kochetkov joined the roster as the Wolves headed to a heavyweight match-up with the Stockton Heat in the Western Conference Finals. After winning the first three games of the series, the Heat struck back with two straight wins to set up a massive Game 6 back in Chicago.

It was here that Kochetkov would turn in a huge performance, stopping all 28 shots he faced in front of a raucous crowd at Allstate Arena to close out the Stockton Heat and send the Wolves to the Calder Cup Finals. Kochetkov remembers that as his favorite moment of the Calder Cup run.

“After we lost the first two in the Stockton series, we came back home and the atmosphere here really helped us win. After that, I was confident that we’d get the Cup.”

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Kochetkov takes in the Game 6 win with his teammates. Photo courtesy: Ross Dettman

His confidence would be well-placed. Kochetkov won three straight games for the Wolves in the Finals, finishing the postseason with a 5-1 record, including two shutouts, an absurd 1.65 GAA, and an equally absurd .950%.

Most of all – he finished with a Calder Cup. Kochetkov elevated his game when it mattered most. He made huge, athletic saves to keep the puck out at all costs – a quality he takes pride in his game.

“I try to just play with my heart and give it my all, and hope the puck doesn’t go into the net.”

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Kochetkov poses with the Calder Cup after the Wolves’ victory in Game 5. Photo Courtesy: Ross Dettman

Behind the Mask

From Chicago to Carolina, Penza to North America, Russian to English, hemisphere to hemisphere, Kochetkov’s personality shines as bright as his game in the crease. It’s helped him become an instant fan favorite across all leagues with fans all over the world.

It was easy to see why. He’s been living in the moment, having fun on and off the ice since he arrived, despite all the adjustments of a new culture and the pressure of the goaltending position. It hasn’t always been that way – in fact, growing up, Kochetkov almost didn’t end up in the crease.

“I never wanted to be a goalie until I got into the net.” 

Once he was in, he was hooked, and it took another goaltender with a big personality from his home country to show him the way.

Of course, the transition to North America featured the obstacle of the language barrier as well. Luckily, teammates Vasily Ponomarev and Andrei Svechnikov in Chicago and Carolina, respectively, have helped Kochetkov with this, along with the rest of his teammates working every day to help him improve. After being unable to find the words for a good chirp in his first game, Kochetkov’s come a long way with his English.

But that doesn’t stop him from mistaking lyrics from a Shakira song as English lyrics – or from enjoying her music, for that matter.

Having a fellow countryman in Svechnikov helped him adjust not only to the language but allowed him to get comfortable in the locker room in Carolina. This year, Kochetkov put up a 10-4-5 record in 19 appearances with the Hurricanes to go with a .913 save percentage and a 2.33 GAA.

In Carolina, his teammates and the fans have endeared upon him the nickname: “Koochie.” Kochetkov doesn’t seem overly thrilled about the tag, preferring his initials “PK” as shorthand.

With the return of Frederik Andersen from injury, the goaltending room in Raleigh got a little too crowded. Kochetkov returned to Chicago with a simple message from the coaching staff:

“Go learn to catch the puck.”

To say the future is bright for this young goaltender would be an understatement, though. He’s got the ability, the mentality, and the swagger for the makings of success that have already made him a treasure in the AHL. Despite the path ahead that he’s paved with his hard work from Penza to Chicago, already with a championship pedigree in his resume and with the hockey world at the palm of his hands, Kochetkov remains grounded in the moment.

“My entire focus is here in Chicago and helping the team here get to the next level.”

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Kochetkov cradles the Calder Cup. Photo Courtesy: Ross Dettman

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    Andrew Rinaldi covers the Chicago Wolves for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHWolves.

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